Sunday, February 10, 2008


One of my favorite contemporary illustrators is Thomas Fluharty, whose excellent work has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, The Weekly Standard, U.S. News & World Report and the Village Voice.

Don't get too distracted by the technical virtuosity of his finished paintings-- that's not the real measure of his talent. To see what Fluharty is made of, look at these wonderful studies:

Fluharty draws with strength and conviction. He injects personality, character and insight into his images. And despite the fact that he is truly a nice guy with a gentle spirit, he creates the most scalding caricatures I've ever seen.

These studies should not be viewed as incomplete fragments. Each is a finished and excellent work on its own. This is true of every really good artist I know: the preliminary sketches or underpaintings may indicate just the beginning of a nose or a hand, but they can still stand alone as well designed, coherent images. Check out the studies of Rembrandt or John Singer Sargent or Leyendecker. Their drafts are obviously incomplete in one sense, yet they contain a full microcosm of a finished artistic statement. Beware of artists who strive only for accuracy at the early stages and leave the "design" part for the end.

This is one more way in which the creative process in art seems to mimic the creative process in nature. As the science writer Arthur Koestler said about the rules governing organic life:

"Parts" and "wholes" in an absolute sense do not exist anywhere in the domain of living organisms.... [P]arts... at the same time... function as quasi-autonomous wholes.
In other words, nature organizes the world so that each part of an organism contains the independent properties of a coherent whole. Despite its limitations, a component is endowed with all the properties necessary to be complete and consistent with regard to its own parts. Art that is built from components this way is more likely to end up with the balance and harmony and other aesthetic attributes we find and respect in nature.

For example, if we deconstruct this lovely painting of a gangster, you will find that each stepping stone on the way to the final painting is a true and clear statement.

See how Fluharty uses rapid strokes and a few colors to rough in the shadows and highlights on the knife and fork below. A lot of this vigor will be lost in the final painting, but in the interim version it has a beauty all its own.

This ability to infuse design in the picture from the beginning stages is one of the most reliable tests I know for a picture of quality.


Anonymous said...

This artist is great. I never heard of him before but I will check him out. Thanks!

Mark said...

Hi David, wasn't it Loomis that said something to the effect that paintings are only as good as the planning that goes into them. Common sense I know but still true. As I progress on my own I've really come to appreciate the necesity for design and the pure persperation that goes into making a good piece of art.

I wish I could wrap my mind around characture as I'm not very good with likenesses but it's on my 'to learn' list so hopefully I can shed my ignorance soon. In the meantime I'll enjoy the work of those who do it well.

slinberg said...

What an exceptional talent. Wow.

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to updates to this blog all week long.

Mahendra Singh said...

Thanks, you just made an illustrator's otherwise hectic day a lot easier … absolutely delicious draftsmanship!

The conté crayon sketches (I assume) are superb and ultimately better, I think, than the paintings. Also, the draftsmanship style is such a classic American style which seems to be vanishing today … muscular, rhythmic, line & mass very integrated … and also, practical and fast.

A generational style, perhaps? Art Student League, GI Bill, etc etc?

I really thank you.

illustrationISM.... said...

i immediately sense that Thomas is having
fun and it's instantly out of his head thru his hands (onto the paper). i tend to think too much how to get the lines down when it seems that
it 'appears' on the paper for thomas!

mark @

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, anonymous, mark and illustrationism.

tm, I'm glad you share my enthusiasm for Fluharty's talent and I am especially tickled by your kind remark about my little blog. Thank you.

mahendra, that is a perfect characterization of Fluharty's style. Where were you when I was writing this thing? Also, I agree with you about the quality of his studies. Sometimes I wish he would stop with just the under painting. I would love to take one of those home.

yelahttam said...

Fluharty is some kind of mad genius, the sheer confidence in every line... - mh

g1toons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
g1toons said...

never heard of this artist until i tripped over this blog, thanks for the post but

Kinetix F said...

This guy Fluharty is the real deal.
Awesome illustrator. Thanks for choosing him as a subject.

Heather Sybil Chavez said...

I loved your interview on Chiu streaming and your artwork is very inspiring

Anonymous said...

Fluharty's cover of The Weekly Standard 6-28-2010 was perfect, Loved it!

LarsEr Arts said...

You can take a oil Painting class with him on which I am doing soon in February! Totally down to earth and Godly man!

David Apatoff said...

LarsER Arts-- I agree. Mr. Fluharty is a fine teacher and a fine human being. That class he teaches is excellent.